Fallacies: Past, Present, Future

1 March 2011

Tuesday


Not long ago in The Prescriptive Fallacy I mentioned the obvious symmetry of the naturalistic fallacy (inferring “ought” from “is” ) and the moralistic fallacy (inferring “is” from “ought” ) and then went on to formulate several additional fallacies, as follows:

The Prescriptive Fallacy — the invalid inference from ought to will be
The Progressivist Fallacy — the invalid inference from will be to ought
The Golden Age Fallacy — the invalid inference from ought to was
The Primitivist Fallacy — the invalid inference from was to ought

The first two are concerned with the relationship between the future and what ought to be, while the second two are concerned with the relationship between the past and what ought to be.

While we can clearly make the fine distinctions that I drew in The Prescriptive Fallacy, when we consider these attitudes in detail we often find attitudes to the future mixed together so that there is no clear distinction between believing the future to be good because it is what will be, and believing the future will be what it will be because that is good. Similar attitudes are found in respect to both the past and the present.

Recognizing the common nexus of the prescriptive fallacy and the progressivist fallacy gives us a new fallacy, which I will call the Futurist Fallacy.

Recognizing the common nexus of the Golden Age fallacy and the Primitivist fallacy gives us a new fallacy that I will call the Nostalgic Fallacy.

Recognizing the common nexus of the naturalistic fallacy and the moralistic fallacy (when we literally take the “is” in these formulations in a temporal sense, so that it uniquely picks out the present in contradistinction to the past or the future) gives us a new fallacy that I will call the Presentist Fallacy.

Hegel is now notorious for having said “the real is the rational and the rational is the real.”

These complex fallacies that result from projecting our wishes into the past or future and believing that the past or future simultaneously prescribe a norm in turn may be compared to the famous Hegelian formulation — from the point of view of contemporary philosophers, one of the most “notorious” things Hegel wrote, and frequently used as a philosophical cautionary tale today — that the real is the rational and the rational is the real.

Volumes of commentary have been written on Hegel’s impenetrable aphorism, and there are many interpretations. The best interpretation I have heard comes from understanding the “real” as the genuine, in which case, once we make a distinction between genuine instances of a given thing and bogus instances of a given thing, we are saying something significant when we say that the genuine is the rational and the rational is the genuine. The bogus, in contrast, is not convertible with the rational.

However we interpret Hegel, it was part of his metaphysics that there is a mutual implication between reality and reason. Hegel obviously didn’t see this as a fallacy, and I can just as well imagine someone asserting the convertibility of the future and the desirable or the past and the desirable is no fallacy at all, but rather a philosophical thesis or an ideological position that can be defended.

It remains to be noted that our formulations here and in The Prescriptive Fallacy assume without further elaboration the legitimacy of the is/ought distinction. The is/ought distinction is widely recognized in contemporary thought, but we could just as well deny it and make a principle of the mutual implication of is and ought, as Hegel made a principle of the mutual implication of the real and the rational.

Quine’s influence on twentieth century Anglo-American philosophical thought was not least due to his argument against the synthetic/analytic distinction, which was, before Quine, almost as well established as the is/ought distinction. A few well chosen examples can usually call into question even the most seemingly reliable distinction. Quine’s quasi-scientism had the effect of strengthening the is/ought distinction, but it came at the cost of questioning the venerable synthetic/analytic distinction. One could just as well do away with the is/ought distinction, though this would likely come at the cost of some other venerable principle. It becomes, at bottom, a question of principle.

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Fallacies and Cognitive Biases

An unnamed principle and an unnamed fallacy

The Truncation Principle

An Illustration of the Truncation Principle

The Gangster’s Fallacy

The Prescriptive Fallacy

The fallacy of state-like expectations

The Moral Horror Fallacy

The Finality Fallacy

Fallacies: Past, Present, Future

Confirmation Bias and Evolutionary Psychology

Metaphysical Fallacies

Metaphysical Biases

Pernicious Metaphysics

Metaphysical Fallacies Again

An Inquiry into Cognitive Bias by way of Memoir

The Appeal to Embargoed Evidence

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Grand Strategy Annex

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